My friend and real estate agent Richard Love and I were enjoying a cold one at the local watering hole not long after the conclusion of the PGA Championship. Eventually, the conversation turned to golf. Don't they all when guys get together?
So, what's the greatest major championship ever played? My choice is the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble with Tiger winning by 15. Richard's is the 1960 U.S. Open played at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado. What?
The action of that tournament is captured in the book "Golf's Greatest Championship: The 1960 U.S. Open" by Julian Graubart. That was the Open when Arnold Palmer came from seven strokes back in the final round to beat amateur Jack Nicklaus. Big names played in the tournament: Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Billy Casper, big Mike Souchak and little Jerry Barber all teed it up.
The book chronicles, in precise detail, the players' thoughts and agony of each wayward shot. Today, Palmer's final round remains one of the greatest comebacks in major championships.
"I know somebody who played in that Open," Richard said.
"Palmer? Nicklaus? Player?" I asked in awe.
"Nope," Richard said. "Don Cherry."
"Don who?" I asked.
As it turns out, Don is a pretty amazing man who just happens to live in Las Vegas. Richard introduced him to me one recent sunny morning. And after spending a few hours chatting it up about golf, I could relate the story of a young amateur golfer who won his first amateur tournament right out of high school and went on to win 24 amateur titles and 90 amateur trophies within nine years. During that period, Don also sank 30 holes in one.
Or, I could tell about Don the entertainer, who, as a young lad, sang in church and landed a job in the evenings delivering singing telegraphs for Western Union for 25 cents each. And how through talent and hard work, he had numerous songs in the Top 10 on the Hit Parade. In 1950, his "Thinking of You" hit No. 3 and sold 700,000 copies. Later, in 1955, he recorded "Band of Gold," which soared past 1 million in sales and notched him a gold record.
But that wasn't the biggest song of his career. "There was one bigger," he said. That song turned out to be the Mr. Clean advertising jingle for Procter & Gamble in 1956. "That made me more money than any other song," he said.
But this is a golf column, so here we go.
Following an amazing nine-year stretch, Don qualified for the right to compete in the 1960 U.S. Open. There were 2,472 golfers vying for spaces, and only 150 made the cut. What happened over the next three days makes for a remarkable story.
The par-71 Cherry Hills golf course outside Denver was the venue for the 1960 U.S. Open. Don shot a 71 in the opening round.
He shot 1 under in the second round, good for a tie for fifth place at negative one. On top were Souchak (-7) and Doug Sanders (-4). Nicklaus, Player and Hogan were in contention. Palmer was in the middle of the pack.
With two rounds of golf on Sunday, the competition was fierce. Don was paired with Snead and shot an even- par 71. Snead managed a 3-over 74. Nicklaus carded a 2-under 69. Souchak shot a 73.
After three rounds, Souchak (-6) led by two over Miller Barber. Nicklaus was three back, Cherry four back and Palmer seven back.
Entering the final nine holes of the Open that Sunday afternoon, Souchak and Nicklaus were in a tie for the lead, but Palmer staged a miraculous comeback to record a 65 and was the clubhouse leader at 280.
Don shot a 1-under on the front, and then reality hit him. Standing on hole No. 9, with Palmer in at 280 and no other player mounting a charge, he needed to shoot 1-under over the last 10 holes to win the thing.
But 17 and 18 proved too tough. Don found the water on 17 for a seven and bogeyed 18 to finish at 284. As amateurs, Nicklaus and Cherry both bested the previous score for amateurs in the Open.
Maybe the 1960 U.S. Open was the best major ever played. Talk with Don Cherry, and you'll be convinced it was. Find out more about him at doncherry.us.
John Asay is a longtime golfer and local freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com.